Nº 1 2014 > Industry in brief

Consumer electronics – What’s here and what’s coming

Ultra-high-definition televisions with curved screens at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas Candies made from a 3D system printer showcased at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas The consumer technology horizon
Ultra-high-definition televisions with curved screens at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas
Candies made from a 3D system printer showcased at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas
The consumer technology horizon

Highlights from 2014 International CES

The International CES consumer electronics show held in Las Vegas on 7–10 January 2014 highlighted a line-up of gadgets on the horizon. From connected socks to baby clothing, wearable technology was an overriding theme. Connected eyewear and apps for Google Glass were prominent, as was the first-ever “wrist revolution” zone.

Ultra-high-definition televisions shared the stage with many connected objects. DigiWorld Institute estimates that the number of connected objects worldwide will grow from the current 15 billion to 80 billion by 2020. Here are some of the highlights of this year’s consumer electronics show from Agence France Presse (AFP).

Televisions: The major manufacturers showed off their biggest displays, including ultra-high-definition, curved screens and interactive features. Technology and entertainment industries unveiled new partnerships that will deliver high-definition content that takes advantage of these new features.

Automobiles: A number of automakers exhibited at the show, highlighting the importance of technology in the vehicle. Driverless parking was demonstrated, and General Motors announced that some cars would have 4G Internet connections.

Smartphones: Many apps leveraging the computing power of the smartphone were unveiled and some powerful new “phablets” (something between a smartphone and a tablet), as well as bendable displays were introduced.
Robotics: For play, work or entertainment, robotics took up an increasing amount of floor space. Robots designed to teach children programming were showcased.

Drones: Grabbing a lot of attention were exhibitors of personal drones to be used as toys, or for professional photography and cinematography.

Smart homes: Home appliance titans LG and Samsung added their might to a trend of letting people command and even exchange text messages with stoves, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and other household equipment, for tending to the demands of daily life. Another novelty at the show came from makers of Internet-enabled door locks.

Intuitive computing: Some technology firms want to get rid of the mouse and touchpad. New computer and gaming hardware was imbued with software that recognizes gesture, voice and even eye movements, freeing people to interact with devices naturally instead of having to click on icons or use touchscreens. 

Ultra-high-definition television

Television giants touted the wonders of ultra-high-definition screens. The new screens offer picture resolution about four times more vivid than current high-definition sets.

Sony unveiled new cameras for capturing video in ultra-high-definition (or 4K as the technology is also known) as well as screens designed to display the rich footage in all its glory.

Recognizing that content is king, Sony’s Video Unlimited service boasts a library of more than 140 titles, including the full catalogue of the hit series Breaking Bad. Sony is also working with Google-owned YouTube and popular online video streaming service Netflix to feature 4K content on television sets.

The Internet is seen as the natural medium to deliver 4K shows or films to televisions. Content creators are excited about 4K and what it allows them to show in storytelling.

Samsung showed an ultra-high-definition television with a 105-inch curved screen, to provide something similar to a cinematic experience. Samsung also introduced a striking bendable television that can be converted from flat to curved screen at the touch of a button. Samsung has 4K content partnerships with Netflix and Amazon, as well as film studios Paramount and 20th Century Fox.

LG also weighed in with ultra-high-definition televisions that feature curved screens. Among new LG television models is one with a frame to display art or personal photographs when the screen is not in use. LG announced an alliance with Netflix to stream 4K shows to new televisions.

Analysts, however, remain skeptical that 4K will be enough to convince people to spend thousands of dollars to replace their current high-definition flat-screen televisions. They think that the most important thing that will happen in television in 2014 will be the continued expansion of online video onto the television screen via over-the-top (OTT) devices and services such as Xbox One, Roku, and Google’s Chromecast. Unlike 4K television, these OTT devices and services lower consumer costs while expanding viewing options. Roku technology is now being built into televisions.

Streaming rich 4K data smoothly requires high-capacity broadband connections, which can be costly or unavailable. Meanwhile, Dolby has developed technology that lets film or television show makers create visually stunning content that can be displayed over televisions that people already own. 

3D printing

With three-dimensional (3D) printing, shoes, belts, eyeglass frames, toys and more can be printed at home as easily as documents.

Music star will.i.am made his debut at International CES in Las Vegas as creative officer for 3D Systems, predicting that the technology will do for many basic items what iTunes did to the way people get songs.

He predicted that, within a decade, 3D printers will be as common in homes as refrigerators, televisions and microwaves, and people will print out things instead of dashing to a shop to buy the items.

3D printing has been around for about 25 years but has seen a surge in popularity as the technology improves and costs drop to a point accessible for hobbyists, artists and entrepreneurs. Brooklyn-based MakerBot was the only 3D printer company at CES five years ago. Now, it is surrounded by rivals. For example, Singapore-based Pirate 3D introduced its Buccaneer home printer that sells for USD 497.

Printers aimed at the home market typically use corn-based biodegradable plastic, layered and shaped using lasers and heated plates. The process can be thought of as laying layers and layers of microscopic bricks.

Entrepreneurs without major financial backing can create prototypes themselves and even do small-scale manufacturing. Along with objects such as figurines, chess pieces and appliance handles, printers can pump out ball bearings, gears and components for creations with moving parts.

MakerBot printers have been used in Africa to make prosthetic hands at a fraction of what they might typically cost. Digital plans for the “robo-hand” have been downloaded 55 000 times, according to MakerBot, which makes a vast library of digital blueprints available free at its website. Fifth-generation MakerBot printers range in price from USD 1375 to USD 6500. Despite growing interest, it remains to be seen whether 3D printing becomes mainstream. 

Wearable computing

Computer chip giant Intel unveiled its push into wearables and connecting everyday devices, as it seeks to leapfrog the competition in mobile computing. On its own or with partners, Intel will produce a range of products, from a health monitor integrated into baby clothes to a heart monitor in earbuds. A turtle-shaped sensor on baby clothing will send information to a smart coffee cup about an infant’s breathing, temperature and position. Earbuds will enable runners and athletes — who already listen to music while exercising — to get detailed health information in real time.

Intel’s new “personal assistant”, dubbed Jarvis, is the company’s answer to the voice-activated Google Now and Apple’s Siri. Intel will also be producing a smartwatch with “geofencing”, which alerts families if children or elderly people leave a specific geographic area.

To address questions of security, Intel will offer its McAfee mobile software free of charge. Intel also said that its new chips would allow for a “dual boot” that enables computer makers to include Microsoft Windows and Google Android on a single device, with users able to change from one to the other at the touch of a button.

Intel also unveiled a new 3D camera called RealSense which can be integrated into tablets and enable users to produce and manipulate three-dimensional images. A user will be able to design a toy or other object and then send it to a 3D printer. Intel demonstrated the technology at International CES by producing chocolate bars.

First Formula E racing car?

An upcoming motor racing competition will put electric vehicles on the map. The first Formula E car, the Spark-Renault SRT-01E, capable of speeds above 225 kilometres per hour, will compete in the first Formula E Championship which begins in Beijing in September 2014; part of 10 races sponsored by the International Automobile Federation (FIA), the global governing body for motor racing.


 

 

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